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ALSO BY

David Walliams DEMON DENTIST

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Written by

David Walliams Illustrated by Tony Ross

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Grandpa’s Great Escape Text copyright © David Walliams 2015 Illustrations © Tony Ross 2015 All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. www.harpercollinschildrens.com Library of Congress Control Number: 2016952954 ISBN 978-0-06-256089-6 17 18 19 20 21 PC/LSCH 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ❖ Originally published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers

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This book is dedicated to Sam & Phoebe, who are nearly always good. With love, David x

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presents

Written by..................................DAVID WALLIAMS Illustrator................................................TONY ROSS Editor............................................RUTH ALLTIMES Desk Editor...........................GEORGIA MONROE Text Designer .............................ELORINE GRANT Cover Designer.................................KATE CLARKE Sound....................TANYA BRENNAND-ROPER

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Marketing.......................................ALISON RUANE AND NICOLA WAY Promotion..........................GERALDINE STROUD AND SAM WHITE Director................................RACHEL DENWOOD Mr. Walliams’s Literary Agent.......PAUL STEVENS AT INDEPENDENT Executive Producer ..........CHARLIE REDMAYNE Produced by.................ANN-JANINE MURTAGH

Special thanks to Charlotte Sluter and Laura Clouting at the Imperial War Museum & Tim Granshaw, Matt Jones, Andy Annabel, and Gerry Jones at Goodwood Aerodrome, & John Nichol, RAF consultant.

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This is the tale of a boy called Jack and his grandfather.

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Once upon a time, Grandpa was a Royal Air Force pilot.

During World War II, he flew a Spitfire fighter plane.

Our story is set in 1983. This was a time before the internet and mobile telephones and computer games that could be played for weeks on end. In 1983, Grandpa was already an old man but his grandson, Jack, was just twelve years old.

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This is Jack’s mum and dad. Mum, Barbara, works at the cheese counter in the local supermarket. Dad, Barry, is an accountant.

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Raj is the local newsagent.

Miss Verity is the history teacher at Jack’s school.

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Detectives Beef and Bone are a crime-fighting duo.

This is the town’s vicar, Reverend Hogg.

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This security guard works at the Imperial War Museum in London.

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Miss Swine is the matron of the local old folk’s home, Twilight

Towers.

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Some of the elderly residents there include Mrs. Trifle, the Major, and the Rear Admiral.

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These are some of the nurses who work at

Twilight Towers—Nurse Rose, Nurse Daisy, and Nurse Blossom.

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This is Twilight Towers.

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Twilight Towers Caring for your unwanted old folk

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This is a map of the town.

Church

Town Square

Railway Station Raj’s Flat Grandpa’s Flat

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Twilight Towers The Moors

School

Park

Raj’s Newsagent

Jack’s House

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Prologue

One

day, Grandpa began to forget things. It was

little things at first. The old man would make himself a cup of tea and forget to drink it. Before long he would have lined up a dozen cups of cold tea on his kitchen table. Or he would run a bath and forget to turn off the taps, flooding his neighbor’s flat downstairs. Or he would leave the house with the express purpose of buying a stamp, but return home with seventeen boxes of cornflakes. Grandpa didn’t even like cornflakes. Over time, Grandpa started to forget bigger things. What year it was. Whether his long-deceased wife, Peggy, was alive or not. One day, he even stopped recognizing his own son. Most startling of all was that Grandpa completely forgot he was an old-age pensioner. The old man had always told his little grandson, Jack, stories of his adventures in the Royal Air Force all those years ago in World War II. Now these stories became more 1

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and more real to him. In fact, instead of just telling these stories, he began living them out. The present faded into scratchy black and white as the past burst into glorious color. It didn’t matter where Grandpa was, or what he was doing, or whom he was with. In his mind, he was a dashing young pilot behind the controls of his Spitfire fighter plane. All the people in Grandpa’s life found this very difficult to understand. Except one person. His grandson, Jack. Like all children, the boy loved to play, and it seemed to him that his grandpa was playing. Jack realized all you had to do was play too.

2

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1 Spam à la Custard

Jack

was a child who was happiest alone in his

bedroom. A naturally shy boy, he didn’t have many friends. Instead of spending his days playing football in the park with all the other kids from school, he would stay inside assembling his prized collection of model airplanes. His favorites were from World War II—the Lancaster bomber, the Hurricane, and of course, his grandfather’s old plane, the now

legendary

Spitfire.

On the Nazi side, he had models of the Dornier bomber, the Junkers, and the Spitfire’s deadly nemesis, the Messerschmitt. 5

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

With great care Jack would paint his model planes, then fix them to the ceiling with fishing wire. Suspended in the air, they looked like they were in the middle of a dramatic dogfight. At night, he would stare up at them from his bunk bed and drift off to sleep dreaming he was an RAF flying ace, just like his grandfather once was. The boy kept a picture of Grandpa by his bed. He was a young man in the old black-and-white photograph. It was taken sometime in 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain. Grandpa was standing proudly in his RAF uniform. In his dreams, Jack would go

Up, up, and away, just

like his grandfather had. The boy would have given everything he had, all of his past and all of his future, for one moment behind the controls of Grandpa’s legendary Spitfire. 6

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Spam à la Custard

In his dreams, he would be a hero. In his life, he felt like a zero. The problem was that each day was exactly the same. He would go to school every morning, do his homework every afternoon, and eat his dinner in front of the television every night. If only he wasn’t so shy. If only he had lots of friends. If only he could break free from his boring life. The highlight of Jack’s week was Sunday. That was the day his parents would leave him with his grandfather. Before the old man had become too confused, he would take his grandson on the most magical days out. The Imperial War Museum was the place they loved to visit the most. It was not too far away, in London, and was a treasure trove of all things military. Together the pair would marvel at the old warplanes hanging from the ceiling of the Great Room. The legendary Spitfire was, of course, their absolute favorite. Seeing her always brought Grandpa’s memories of the war flooding back. He would share these stories with his grandson, who devoured every word. On the long bus 7

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

journey home, Jack would bombard the old man with hundreds and hundreds of questions… “What’s the fastest speed you ever went in your Spitfire?” “Did you ever have to parachute out?” “Which is the better fighter plane, the Spitfire or the Messerschmitt?” Grandpa loved answering him. Often a crowd of children would gather around the old man on the top deck of the bus home to listen to these incredible tales. 8

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Spam à la Custard

“It was the summer of 1940,” Grandpa would begin. “The height of the Battle of Britain. One night I was flying my Spitfire over the English Channel. I had become separated from my squadron. My fighter plane had taken a pounding in a dogfight. Now I was limping back to base. Then just behind me I heard machine guns.

RAT TAT TAT! It

was a Nazi Messerschmitt. Right on my tail! Again.

RAT TAT TAT! It was just the two of us alone over the sea. That night would be an epic fight to the death…” 9

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

Grandpa enjoyed nothing more than sharing stories of his World War II adventures. Jack would listen intently; every little detail fascinated him. Over time, the boy became something of an expert on these old fighter planes. Grandpa would tell his grandson that he would make “an excellent pilot one day.” This always made the boy burst with pride. Then later in the day, if ever an old black-andwhite war film was on the television, the pair would snuggle up on the sofa together in Grandpa’s house and watch it. Reach for the Sky was one they watched over and over again. This classic told the story of a pilot who lost both his legs in a horrific accident before World War II. Despite this, Douglas Bader went on to become a legendary flying ace. Rainy Saturday afternoons were made for Reach for the Sky, or One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, or The Way to the Stars or A Matter of Life and Death. For Jack there was nothing better. Sadly the food at Grandpa’s home was always 10

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Spam à la Custard

diabolical. He called it “rations,” as he had during the war. The old man only ever ate food from tins. For dinner he would select a couple at complete random from his larder and empty them into a pan together. 11

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

Corned beef with pineapple chunks

Sardines and rice pudding

Treacle sponge with peas Baked beans mixed with tinned peaches

Diced carrots in condensed milk 12

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Spam à la Custard

Chocolate pudding covered in tomato soup Pilchards with spaghetti hoops

Steak-and-kidney pudding and fruit cocktail

Haggis topped with cherries in syrup

And Grandpa’s speciality, Spam à la Custard 13

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

The use of the French words gave it an air of poshness it did not deserve. Fortunately the boy didn’t come for the food. World War II was the most important time in Grandpa’s life. It was a time when brave Royal Air Force pilots like him fought for their country in the Battle of Britain. The Nazis were planning an invasion, a plot they called Operation Sea Lion. However, without being able to secure power over the skies to protect their troops on the ground, the Nazis were never able to put their plan into action. Day after day, night after night, RAF pilots like Grandpa risked their lives to keep the people of Britain free from being captured by the Nazis. So instead of reading a book to his grandson at bedtime, the old man would tell the boy of his reallife adventures during the war. His stories were more thrilling than any you could find in a book. “One more tale, Grandpa! Please!” the boy begged on one such night. “I want to hear about when you were shot down by the Luftwaffe and had to crashland into the English Channel!” 14

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Spam à la Custard

“It’s late, young Jack,” Grandpa replied. “You go to sleep. I promise I will tell you that tale and plenty more in the morning.” “But—” “I’ll meet you in your dreams, Squadron Leader,” said the old man as he kissed Jack tenderly on the forehead. “Squadron Leader” was his nickname for his grandson. “I’ll see you in the skies. Up, up,

and away.” “Up, up, and away!” the boy repeated before drifting off to sleep in Grandpa’s spare room, dreaming he too was a fighter pilot. Time spent with Grandpa couldn’t have been more perfect. But that was all about to change.

15

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2 Slippers

Over time, Grandpa’s mind began transporting him back to his days of glory more and more. By the time our story begins, the old man completely believed that it was still World War II. Even though the war had ended decades before. Grandpa had become very confused, a condition that affects some elderly people. It was serious, and sadly there was no known cure. Instead, it seemed likely it would continue to worsen, until one day Grandpa might not even be able to remember his own name. But as ever in life, wherever there is tragedy, you can often find comedy. In recent times the old man’s condition had led to some very funny moments. On Bonfire Night, Grandpa insisted everyone go down to the air-raid shelter at once when the next-door 16

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Slippers

neighbors started letting off fireworks in the garden. Or there was the time when Grandpa cut a wafer-thin chocolate mint into four pieces with his penknife and shared it out with the family because of “rationing.�

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

Most memorable of all was the time Grandpa decided that a shopping trolley at the supermarket was really a Lancaster bomber. He hurtled down the aisles on a top secret mission, hurling huge bags of flour. These “bombs” exploded everywhere— over the food, over the tills, even covering the haughty supermarket manageress from head to toe.

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Slippers

She looked like a powdery ghost. The cleanup operation lasted many weeks. Grandpa was banned from the supermarket for life. Sometimes Grandpa’s confusion could be more upsetting. Jack had never met his grandmother. This was because she had died nearly forty years ago. It had been one night toward the end of the war in a Nazi bombing raid over London. At the time, Jack’s father was a newborn baby. However, when Jack stayed at his grandfather’s tiny flat, the old man would sometimes call for his “Darling Peggy” as if she was in the next room. Tears would well in the boy’s eyes. It was heartbreaking. Despite everything, Grandpa was an incredibly proud man. For him everything had to be “just so.” 19

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

Crisp white shirt Doublebreasted blazer

Flying ace’s mustache

Service medals Royal Air Force tie

Polished gold buttons

Neatly pressed gray slacks

Slippers

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Slippers

He was always impeccably dressed in a uniform of double-breasted blazer, crisp white shirt, and neatly pressed gray slacks. A maroon, silver, and blue–striped Royal Air Force tie was forever knotted neatly around his neck. As was the fashion with many World War II pilots, he favored a dashing flying ace’s mustache. It was a thing of wonder. The mustache was so long it connected to his sideburns. It was like a beard but with the chin bit missing. Grandpa would twizzle the ends of his mustache for hours, until they stuck out at just the right angle. The one thing that would give Grandpa’s confused state of mind away was his choice of footwear. Slippers. The old man no longer wore shoes. Now he always forgot to put them on. Whatever the weather, in rain, sleet, and snow, he would be sporting his brown-checked slippers. Of course Grandpa’s eccentric behavior made the grown-ups worry. Sometimes Jack would pretend to go to bed but instead creep out of his bedroom and sit at the top of the stairs in his pajamas. There he would listen to his mother and father downstairs in 21

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the kitchen, discussing Grandpa. They would use big words that Jack didn’t understand to describe the old man’s “condition.” Then Mum and Dad would argue about Grandpa being put in an old folk’s home. The boy hated hearing his grandfather talked about in this way, as if he was some sort of problem. However, being only twelve years old, Jack felt powerless to do anything. But none of this stopped Jack from adoring hearing stories about the old man’s wartime adventures, even though these tales had become so real to Grandpa now that the pair would act them out. They were Boy’s Own adventures, stories of derring-do. Grandpa had an ancient wooden record player the size of a bath. On it he would play booming orchestral music, with the volume as high as it would go. Military bands were his favorite, and together Jack and his grandfather would listen to huge classical pieces like “Rule, Britannia!,” “Land of Hope and Glory” or the “Pomp and Circumstance” marches way into the night. Two old armchairs would become their cockpits. As the music soared, so did they in their 22

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Slippers

imaginary fighter planes. A Spitfire for Grandpa and a Hurricane for Jack. Up, up, and away, they would go. Together they would fly high above the clouds, outwitting enemy aircraft. Every Sunday night the pair of flying aces would win the Battle of Britain, without even leaving the old man’s tiny flat. Together Grandpa and Jack inhabited their own world and had countless imaginary adventures.

However, the night our story starts, a real-life adventure was about to begin. 23

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3 A Waft of Cheese

This

particular evening, Jack was asleep in his

bedroom, dreaming he was a World War II pilot, as he did every night. He was sitting behind the controls of his Hurricane, taking on a squadron of deadly Messerschmitts, when he heard the distinct sound of a telephone ringing.

RING RING RING RING. That was strange, he thought, there weren’t any telephones on board 1940s fighter planes. Yet still the telephone kept ringing.

RING RING RING RING. The boy woke up with a start. As he sat up in bed he banged his head on his model Lancaster bomber that was suspended from the ceiling. “Ow!” he cried. He checked the time on the nickelplated RAF pilot’s watch his grandfather had given him. 24

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A Waft of Cheese

2:30 a.m. Who on earth was calling the house at this hour? The boy leaped down from his top bunk and opened his bedroom door. Downstairs in the hall, he could hear his mother talking on the telephone. “No, he hasn’t turned up here,” she said. After a few moments, Mum spoke again. Her familiar tone convinced Jack that she must be talking to his father. “So no sign of the old man at all? Well what are you going to do, Barry? I know he’s your father! But you can’t stay out all night looking for him!” Jack couldn’t remain silent for a moment longer. From the top of the stairs he cried, “What’s happened to Grandpa?” Mum looked up. “Oh, well done, Barry, now Jack’s woken up!” She put her hand over the receiver. “Go back to bed this instant, young man! You’ve got school in the morning!” “I don’t care!” replied the boy with defiance. “What’s happened to Grandpa?” Mum returned to the telephone call. “Barry, call me back in two minutes. It’s all going off here now 25

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

and all!” With that she slammed down the receiver. “What’s happened?” demanded the boy again as he ran down the stairs to join his mother. Mum sighed theatrically as if all the woes of the world were on her shoulders. She did that a lot. It was at this exact moment that Jack realized he could smell cheese. Not just normal cheese.

Smelly cheese,

blue cheese, runny cheese, moldy

cheese,

cheesy cheese. His mother worked at the cheese counter of the local supermarket, and wherever she went, a strong waft of cheese came with her. Both stood in the hall in their nightclothes, Jack in his stripy blue pajamas, and his mother in her pink fluffy nightgown. Her hair was in curlers and she had thick smears of face cream on her cheeks, forehead, and nose. She often left it on overnight. Jack wasn’t sure exactly why. Mum thought of herself as quite a beauty, and often claimed to be the “glamorous face of cheese,” if such a thing was possible. Mum flicked on the light and they both blinked for a moment at the sudden brightness. “Your grandpa’s gone missing again!” 26

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A Waft of Cheese

“Oh no!” “Oh yes!” The woman sighed once more. It was clear she was worn out by the old man. Sometimes she would even roll her eyes at Grandpa’s war stories, as if she was bored. This bothered Jack greatly. Grandpa’s stories were infinitely more exciting than being told about the week’s bestselling cheese. “Me and your father were woken up by a phone call around midnight.” “From who?” “His neighbor downstairs, you know, that newsagent man…” After his big house had become too much for him, Grandpa had moved last year to a little flat above a shop. Not just any shop. A newsagent’s shop. Not just any newsagent’s shop. Raj’s. “Raj?” replied Jack now. “Yeah, that’s his name. Raj said he thought he heard your grandpa’s door bang around midnight. He knocked on his door, but there was no answer. The poor man got himself in a terrible panic, so he called here.” 27

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

“Where’s Dad?” “He jumped in the car and has been out searching for your grandpa for the past couple of hours.” “Couple of hours?!” The boy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Why on earth didn’t you wake me?” Mum sighed AGAIN. Tonight was turning into something of a sigh-a-thon. “Me and your dad know how fond you are of him, so we didn’t want you to worry, did we?” “Well, I am worried!” replied the boy. In truth he felt a lot closer to his exciting grandfather than he did to anyone else in the family, including his mother and father. Time spent with Grandpa was always precious.

“We’re all worried!” replied Mum. “I am really worried.” “Well, we’re all really worried.” 28

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A Waft of Cheese

“Well, I am really really worried.” “Well, we’re all really really really worried. Now please let’s not have a competition about who is the most worried!” she shouted angrily. Jack could tell his mother was becoming increasingly stressed, so he thought it best not to reply to that last remark, even though he was really

really really

worried. “I’ve told your dad a hundred times your grandpa needs to be in an old folk’s home!” “Never!” said the boy. He knew the old man better than anyone. “Grandpa would absolutely hate that!” Grandpa—or Wing Commander Bunting as he was known during the war—was far too proud to spend the last of his days with a lot of old dears doing crosswords and knitting. Mum shook her head and sighed. “Jack, you are too young to understand.” 29

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Like all children, Jack hated being told this. But now wasn’t the time to argue. “Mum, please. Let’s go and look for him.” “Are you NUTS? It’s freezing tonight!” replied the woman. “But we have to do something! Grandpa is out there somewhere, lost!”

RING RING

RING RING.

Jack lunged for the telephone, lifting the receiver before his mother could. “Dad? Where are you? The town square? Mum just said we should come out and help you look for Grandpa,” he lied, as his mother gave him an angry look. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.” The boy put the receiver down, and took his mum by the hand. “Grandpa needs us…” he said. Jack opened the door and the pair ran out into the darkness.

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4 Secondhand Trike

The town was eerily unfamiliar at night. All was dark and quiet. It was the deepest winter. A mist hung in the air, and the ground was moist after a heavy downpour of rain. Dad had taken the car, so Jack pedaled along the road on his trike. This trike was only meant for toddlers. In fact, the boy had been given the trike secondhand for his third birthday and had outgrown it many years ago. However, his family didn’t have enough money to buy him a new bike, so he had to make do. Mum stood on the back, holding on to his shoulders. If any of his classmates from school had seen him giving his mother a lift on his trike, Jack knew he would have to go and live alone in a dark and distant cave for all eternity. 31

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Grandpa’s military band music played out in Jack’s head as he pedaled as fast as he could down the street. For a toddler’s trike, it was a deceptively heavy beast, especially with his mother standing on the back, her fluffy pink nightgown blowing in the wind. As the wheels turned around on his trike so did the thoughts in Jack’s mind. The boy was closer to the old man than anybody; surely he could guess where his grandfather was? 32

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Without seeing another soul on the way, the pair finally arrived at the town square. A pathetic sight greeted them. Dad was in his pajamas and dressing gown, hunched over the steering wheel of the family’s little brown car. Even from a distance, Jack could see the poor man couldn’t take much more of this. Grandpa had gone missing from his flat seven times in the past couple of months. 33

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When he heard the trike approach, Dad sat up in his seat. Jack’s father was wiry and pale. He wore glasses and looked older than he was. His son often wondered whether being married to Mum had added years to the poor chap.

With the sleeve of his dressing gown, Dad wiped his eyes. It was clear he had been crying. Jack’s father was an accountant. He spent all day doing long boring sums and didn’t find it easy to express his feelings. Instead, he would bottle things up. However, Jack knew his dad loved his father very much, even though he was nothing like him. It was as if the love of adventure had skipped a generation. The old man’s head was in the clouds, while his son’s head was buried in books of figures. 34

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“Are you all right, Dad?” asked the boy, breathless from pedaling. As his father wound down the window to talk to them, the handle came off in his hand. The car was ancient and rusty, and bits often fell off. “Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Dad lied, as he held the handle aloft, not quite sure what to do with it. “So no sign of the old man?” asked Mum, already knowing the answer. “No,” replied Dad softly. He turned away from them and stared straight ahead to hide how upset he was. “I’ve looked all over town for him for the past few hours.” “Did you look in the park?” asked Jack. “Yes,” replied Dad. “The railway station?” “Yes. It was all locked up for the night, but there was no one outside.” Suddenly Jack had an inspired thought, and couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “The War Memorial?!” The man returned his gaze to his son, and shook 35

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his head sorrowfully. “That’s the first place I looked.” “Well, that’s it then!” announced Mum. “Let’s call the police. They can stay out all night looking for him. I am going back to bed! We have a big promotion on our Wensleydale at the cheese counter tomorrow and I need to look my best!”

“No!” said Jack. From secretly listening to his parents’ conversations about Grandpa at night, the boy knew this could spell disaster. Once the police were involved, questions would be asked. Forms would have to be filled in. The old man would become “a problem.” Doctors would poke and prod him, and because of his condition no doubt Grandpa would be sent straight to an old folk’s home. To someone like his grandfather, who had lived a life of freedom and adventure, it would be like a prison sentence. They simply had to find him.

“Up, up, and away…” muttered the boy.

“What, son?” replied Dad, mystified. “That’s what Grandpa always says to me when we are playing pilots together in his flat. As we take off he always says, ‘Up, up, and away.’’’ 36

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“So…?” demanded Mum. She rolled her eyes and sighed at the same time. Double whammy. “So…” replied Jack. “I bet that’s where Grandpa is. Up high somewhere.” The boy thought long and hard about which was the tallest building in town. After a moment it dawned on him.

“Follow me!” Jack exclaimed, before

speeding off down the road, pedaling his trike furiously.

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5 Loon in the Moon

The highest point in the town was in fact the church spire. It was something of a local landmark and could be seen for miles around. Jack had a hunch that Grandpa might have tried to climb up there. When he had gone missing before, he had often been found somewhere high up, atop a climbing frame, up a ladder, even once on the roof of a double-decker bus. It was as if he needed to touch the sky as he had done all those years ago as an RAF pilot. As the church came into view, there was the distinct silhouette of a man sitting on top of the spire. He was perfectly framed by the glow of a low silvery moon. From the moment Jack saw his grandfather he knew exactly what the old man thought he was doing. Flying his Spitfire. At the foot of the tall church was the short vicar. 38

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Reverend Hogg had a rather obvious comb-over. What hair he had left was dyed so black it was blue. His eyes were as small as penny coins, hidden behind black-framed glasses. The vicar’s glasses rested on his upturned piggy nose, which he was forever sticking in the air so he could look down it at people. Jack’s family did not go to church regularly, so the boy had only seen the vicar out and about in the local town. But once he had seen Reverend Hogg carrying a crate of expensive-looking champagne from the off-license. On another occasion, Jack could have sworn he saw the man cruising past in a brand-new Lotus Esprit sports car, puffing on a big fat cigar. Weren’t vicars meant to help the poor, Jack couldn’t help wondering, not lavish money on themselves? This being the middle of the night, Reverend Hogg was still wearing his bedclothes. The vicar’s pajamas and dressing gown were made of the finest silk, and he was sporting a pair of red velvet slippers which were monogrammed “C of E” (for Church of England). Around his wrist was curled a chunky 40

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diamond-encrusted gold watch. He was clearly a man who had a taste for the high life.

“GET DOWN FROM THERE!” barked Reverend Hogg at the old man, just as the family ran through the graveyard.

“IT’S MY GRANDPA!” shouted Jack, once again breathless from having pedaled so hard on his trike. Reverend Hogg reeked of cigars, a smell the boy could not stomach, and instantly he felt a little queasy. “Well, what on earth is he doing on MY church roof?!” “I am sorry, vicar!” yelled Dad. “It’s my father. He gets confused…” “Then he should be under lock and key! He has already dislodged some of the lead off MY roof!” From behind the gravestones, a gang of toughlooking men appeared. They all had shaved heads, tattoos, and teeth missing. From their overalls and spades, Jack assumed they must be gravediggers. Though it seemed strange that they were digging graves in the dead of night. One of the gravediggers handed the vicar a torch, 41

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which he shone straight into the old man’s eyes.

“COME DOWN THIS INSTANT!” Yet still Grandpa did not respond. As usual he was in a world of his own.

“Rudder steady. Holding on course, over?” he said instead. It was clear he did indeed believe he was high up in the skies piloting his beloved Spitfire. “Wing Commander to base, over?” he went on. “What on earth is he on about?” demanded Reverend Hogg, before muttering

under

his

42

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breath, “The man is a complete loon.” One of the gravediggers, a big, burly man with a tattoo of a spider’s web on his neck spoke up. “Shall I fetch your air rifle, Reverend? A few shots should scare him down in no time!” His fellow gravediggers snickered at the thought. Air

rifle!

The

boy

needed to think fast if his grandfather was going to make it down to earth safely. “No! Let me try!” Jack had an idea. “This is base, over,” he called up. All the grown-ups looked at him in disbelief.

“Wing Commander 43

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Bunting reading you loud and clear,” replied Grandpa. “Current cruising altitude is 2,000 feet, ground speed of 320 miles per hour. Have been circling all night but no sign of enemy aircraft, over.” “Then your mission is accomplished, sir, return to base, over,” said Jack. “Roger that!” From the foot of the church the group below looked up in incredulity as the old man—still sat on the church spire—made an imaginary landing. Grandpa was completely convinced he was behind the controls of his fighter plane; he even mimed turning the engine off. Next he slid open the invisible canopy, and climbed out. Dad closed his eyes. He was so scared his father was going to fall, he couldn’t watch a moment longer. Jack’s eyes were wide-open in terror. He didn’t dare blink. The old man clambered down the spire, on to the roof. For a moment he stood still on the narrow peak, then without a care in the world he walked along it. But the piece of lead he had dislodged on 44

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his way up had left a dent in the roof, so after just a few paces…

! P I TR

…Grandpa went flying through the air. 45

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“Nooo!” cried Jack. “DAD!” shouted Dad.

“ARGH!”

screamed

Mum. The vicar and gravediggers looked on with grim fascination. The

old

man

slid

down the roof, dislodging some more of the vicar’s precious lead tiles along the way.

SMASH!

SMASH!

As they crashed on the ground, Grandpa hurtled over the roof edge.

! H S O WHO But at that moment, without making a fuss, the

old man managed to grab on to the guttering and came to a stop. His thin legs swayed in the night air, 46

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his slippers bumping against the stained glass window of the church. “Careful of MY window!” shouted the vicar. “Hold on, Dad!” called out Jack’s father. “I told you we should have called the police,” added Mum unhelpfully. “I have a christening at the church first thing tomorrow!” exclaimed Reverend Hogg. “We can’t be scrubbing bits of your grandfather off the ground all morning!” “Dad? DAD?” called out Jack’s father. Jack thought for a moment. If he didn’t act fast, his poor grandpa was sure to plummet to his death. “He won’t respond to being called that,” said the boy. “Let me.” Jack then projected his voice once more. “Wing Commander? This is Squadron Leader!” 47

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“Ah, there you are, old boy!” Grandpa called down from the guttering. Jack’s pretend name had now become real to the old man. Grandpa believed the boy was a fellow airman. “Just make your way along the aircraft’s wing to your right,” called up Jack. Grandpa paused for a moment, before answering, “Roger that.” A moment later he started shimmying

his hands along the guttering. Jack’s approach was utterly

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unexpected. Yet it worked. You had to enter Grandpa’s world if you wanted to get through to him. Jack spotted a drainpipe running down the side of the church. “Now, Wing Commander, you see that pole to your right?” shouted the boy. “Yes, Squadron Leader.” “Hold on tight and slowly slide down it, sir.” Both Mum and Dad gasped and covered their mouths as Grandpa swung like an acrobat from the guttering to the pipe. For a moment all was still as he held on tight at the top. However, his weight must have been too much for the pipe. Suddenly it came loose from the wall and started rapidly bending downwards.

CREAK went the pipe.

Had Jack said the wrong thing? Was he now sending his beloved grandfather hurtling toward the ground?

“NOOOOOOO!” cried the boy.

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6 A Runaway Bulldozer

To

Jack’s relief, instead of snapping, the church

drainpipe bent down slowly under the old man’s weight.

O N W T

G

!

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Eventually it placed him safely on the ground. As soon as his slippers touched the wet grass of the graveyard, Grandpa marched over to the assembled group and gave them a salute. “Fall out, men.” Mum looked more than a little offended. “Wing Commander?” said the boy. “Please let me escort you to your car. We’ll drive you back to your quarters shortly.” “Jolly good show, old boy,” replied Grandpa. Jack took him by the arm and led him to the family’s rusty old car. As he opened the door, the handle came clean off. He put his grandfather safely in the backseat and closed the door once more so the old man could get warm on this chilly winter night. As he ran back across the graveyard, Jack heard Reverend Hogg saying to his parents, “That man isn’t all there! He needs to be locked up…” “He is fine, thank you very much!” said Jack, jumping in on the conversation. The vicar looked down at the boy and smiled, baring his teeth like a shark before it takes a bite. Jack watched as a thought seemed to cross the man’s 51

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mind. Suddenly the vicar’s tone of voice completely changed. “Mr. and Mrs.…?” he began again, now sounding kind and caring. “Bunting,” replied Mum and Dad at the same time. “Mr. and Mrs. Bunting, in my many years as vicar, I have brought a great deal of comfort to the old folk of this parish, and I would love to help your elderly relative.” “Oh, would you?” said Mum, immediately charmed by this slippery fish. “Yes, Mrs. Bunting. In fact, I know an absolutely smashing place he could be sent to. It recently opened after the previous old folk’s home was ACCIDENTALLY demolished by a runaway bulldozer.” Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught the gravediggers smirking at this. The boy couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but he felt like something was very wrong here. “Yes, we read about that in the local paper,” replied Dad. “A runaway bulldozer? Who would have thought it?” 52

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“The good Lord moves in mysterious ways,” replied Reverend Hogg. “You know what, Mr. Vicar?” continued Mum. “I have been saying it to these two until I’ve gone blue in the face. And Jill at the cheese counter agrees.” “So you work at a cheese counter?” inquired Reverend Hogg. “I thought I could smell Stilton.” “Yes!” replied Mum. “One of our speciality cheeses. It’s such a beautiful aroma, isn’t it, Mr. Vicar? Like perfume really.” Dad rolled his eyes. “Anyway, so Jill is of the same mind,” continued Mum again. “An old folk’s home would be the best place for him.” Jack looked at his father and shook his head vigorously, but the man pretended not to notice his son. “Is it a nice place?” asked Dad. “Mr. Bunting, I wouldn’t be recommending it if it wasn’t,” purred the vicar. “It’s better than nice. It’s like Disneyland for old people. The only problem is, it’s so popular…” 53

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“Is it?” asked Dad, now also completely sucked in by the man’s patter. “Yes, it’s very hard to get a place,” said Reverend Hogg. “Well, that’s settled then,” said Jack. “He can’t go anyway.” The vicar continued without pausing for breath. “Fortunately I know the matron who runs the place rather well. Lovely woman, Miss Swine, and rather attractive, I am sure you will agree when you meet her. If you wanted I could ask her if your dear old grandpa could jump the queue.” “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Vicar,” said Mum. “What’s this place called?” asked Dad.

“Twilight Towers,” replied Reverend Hogg. “It’s not far from here. Just on the edge of the moors. I could call Miss Swine now and ask one of my boys here to run him up there tonight, if you like…?” The vicar indicated his burly gang of gravediggers. “That would save us the bother,” agreed Mum.

“NO!”

protested Jack.

Dad tried to steer the family toward a middle 54

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ground. “Well, thank you so much, Vicar, we’ll have a think about it.” “No, we won’t!” protested Jack. “My grandpa’s never going into a home!

NEVER!”

With that, Dad started ushering his wife and son toward the car, where Grandpa had been waiting patiently. But as Jack was trailing behind, and just out of earshot of his parents, the vicar turned to him and hissed, “We’ll see about that, young man…”

55

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7 Disneyland for Old People

It was nearly dawn by the time they were all home. Jack managed to convince his parents that it was for the best that Grandpa stayed with the family for the rest of the night, rather than return alone to his flat. The boy put it in terms he thought his grandfather would understand. “Because of enemy reconnaissance missions in the area, the Air Chief Marshal has ordered you to move quarters.” Before long, Grandpa was fast asleep on the bottom bunk in the boy’s bedroom, snoring for England.

ZZZzzz! ZZZZZZ!

Zzz! ZZZzz! The ends of the old man’s

mustache blew up and down with each breath. 56

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Unable to sleep, and with his heart still pounding in his chest from the night’s adventure, the boy slid down silently from the top bunk. As was often the case, he could hear muffled voices from downstairs and wanted to listen to what his parents were saying. Expertly he opened his bedroom door without making a sound. He sat on the carpet at the top of the stairs, one of his ears pushed between two bannisters. “Mr. Vicar was right,” said Mum. “A home is the best place for him.” “I’m really not sure, Barbara,” protested Dad. “Grandpa wouldn’t like it.” “Did you not listen to the nice man? What did Mr. Vicar say about

Twilight Towers?”

“He said it was like ‘Disneyland for old people’?” “Exactly! Now I don’t imagine there are roller coasters or log flumes or someone dressed up as a giant mouse, but it sounds wonderful.” “But—” “The vicar is a man of the church! He would never lie!” snapped Mum. “Maybe it is like he said. But Grandpa’s always 57

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been such a free spirit.” “Yes!” Mum replied with a note of triumph in her voice. “Such a free spirit that we find him up on the church roof in the middle of the night!” There was silence for a moment. Dad did not have an answer for this. “Listen, Barry, what else can we do?” continued Mum. “The old man’s becoming a danger to himself. He very nearly fell off that roof and died!” “I know, I know…” Dad muttered. “Well?” “Maybe it is for the best.” “That’s settled once and for all then. We can drop him off at

Twilight Towers

tomorrow.” As Jack listened at the top of the stairs, a tear welled in his eye, and rolled very slowly down his cheek.

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8 Spit It Out!

True to form at breakfast the next morning, Grandpa was acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. As he sat happily tucking into his fried eggs and bacon in the kitchen of the family home, it was clear that the old man had no memory whatsoever of the past night’s dramatic events. “More bread! Quickly, please, Charlady, chop chop!” he ordered. Mum did not appreciate being treated like some kind of servant. “Charlady” was what posh people called their cleaners in the olden days. She looked to her husband to do something, but Dad pretended to read the paper. Two slices of white bread were slammed down on the table and within a moment Grandpa began mopping up all the grease on his plate. 59

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As he devoured the bread, he announced, “I’ll have the bread fried next time, please, Charlady!” “Oh, will you now?!” replied Mum sarcastically. Jack couldn’t help but smile, though he tried to hide it. The old man slurped his tea, followed by a, “Down the hatch!” Grandpa said that whenever he drank anything. “Mum, Dad, I’ve been thinking,” announced the boy. “As I was up so late, I think it’s best I don’t go to school today.” “What?” replied Mum. “Yes. I can stay here and look after Grandpa. In fact, I should probably take the whole week off!” Jack didn’t like school much. He had just turned twelve, so he had been sent off to big school. He 60

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hadn’t made any friends there yet. All the other kids seemed to be only interested in the latest pop star or silly gadget. This being 1983, many of the kids spent their lessons fiddling with their Rubik’s Cubes under their desks. Jack couldn’t find a single person who had a passion for model airplanes. On his first day, he was laughed at by some older boys for even mentioning them. So Jack learned to keep his mouth shut. “You are going to school today, young man!” Mum always called her son “young man” when he had done something wrong. “You tell him, Barry!” Dad looked up from his newspaper. “Well, it was very late last night…”

“BARRY!” The man suddenly thought better of disagreeing with his wife and his sentence quickly changed tack. “…But of course you shouldn’t miss school. And in the future, please do absolutely everything your mother says.” Finally he added a rather mournful, “I know I do.” Next, the woman gave her husband a rather unsubtle poke on the shoulder. It was clear she wanted him to 61

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make the big announcement about Grandpa. As Dad did not immediately respond, she poked him again. This time it was so hard he actually went, “Ow!” “Bar-ry…” she prompted. Mum always said Dad’s name in that strange elongated way when she was trying to get him to do something. Dad put down his paper and folded it slowly to put off speaking as long as he could. He looked straight at his father. Jack feared the worst. Was this the moment when Dad would tell Grandpa that he was going to be sent to Twilight Towers? “Now, Dad. You know we all love you very much and only want the best for you…” Grandpa slurped his mug of tea noisily. It wasn’t clear whether he had heard what his son had said at all, as there was no flicker in his eyes. Dad started again, speaking slower and louder than before. “Are… you… lis-ten-ing… to… me?” “Spit it out, Cadet!” replied Grandpa. Jack smirked. The boy loved that his grandfather gave Dad a much lower rank than him. In fact, the lowest rank there was. 62

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RAF officer ranks were as follows: Officer Cadet

(the lowest of the low)

Acting Pilot Officer (not quite the lowest of the low)

Pilot Officer (now you are getting somewhere)

Flying Officer (could still do better)

Flight Lieutenant (not bad)

Squadron Leader (even better)

Wing Commander (even better than that)

Group Captain (ooh, you have done well) Air Commodore (look at you!)

Air Vice Marshal (your mum must be very proud)

Air Marshal (oooh!) Air Chief Marshal (nearly there, dear)

Marshal of the Royal Air Force (Mr. Big Pants) 63

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Dad (or “Officer Cadet Bunting” as Grandpa called him) took a deep breath and started again. “Well, we all love you very much, and were thinking, well, it was the… er… Charlady…” Mum glared at Dad. “…I mean Barbara’s idea really. But after last night we both agree. We thought it might be best if you went into…” Jack had to say something, anything. He needed to buy his grandpa some time. So before Dad could finish his sentence he blurted: “…School with me today!”

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9 Colored Chalks

Jack

had been petitioning his history teacher, Miss

Verity, to be allowed to bring Grandpa into her class all term. At his new school, they had started studying World War II. Who better to learn about it from than someone who had actually been there? What’s more, all the other kids could see how cool his grandfather was. Maybe then having a collection of model airplanes wouldn’t be so sad after all? Miss Verity was a tall, thin woman who wore long skirts down to her ankles and frilly blouses up to her chin. Her spectacles hung from her neck on a silver chain. She was one of those teachers who somehow managed to make an exciting subject deathly dull. History should be thrilling, with its stories of heroes and villains who shaped the destiny of the world. Bloodthirsty kings and queens. Daring battles. 65

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Grandpa’s Great Escape

Unspeakable methods of torture. Sadly, Miss Verity’s method of teaching was mindnumbing. All the lady would do was write dates and names in her beloved colored chalks up on the blackboard. Then her pupils would have to copy everything down into their exercise books.

“Facts! Facts! Facts!”

she would recite as she scribbled away. Facts were all she cared about. One particular history lesson, all the boys from her class clambered out of the window for a crafty game of footy on the playground. Miss Verity didn’t even notice they were gone, as she never turned around from her blackboard. Convincing the history teacher to allow Grandpa into the classroom at some point had not been an easy task. In the end, Jack had to bribe her with a set of colored chalks from the local newsagent’s shop. Fortunately for the boy, the shop owner, Raj, had sold the set of “luxury” chalks as part of one of his special offers. They had come free with an out-of-date box of fudge. It was lucky that history was the second lesson of the day, as Grandpa made his grandson rather late for 66

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Colored Chalks

school. First, it took a while to convince the old man that when Jack had said “school,” he did of course mean an RAF “flying school,” and not just the local comprehensive. Second, the “shortcut” through the park turned out to be something of a “long cut.” Grandpa had insisted on climbing to the very top of the tallest tree in the park so he could “keep an eye out for enemy aircraft.” Coming down took a great deal longer than going up, and in the end Jack had to borrow a ladder from a nearby window cleaner to coax his grandfather to the ground. When the pair eventually passed through the school gates, Jack looked at 67

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his RAF-issue watch and realized his history lesson had started ten minutes ago! If there was one thing Miss Verity could not abide, it was lateness. All eyes turned to the boy as he entered the classroom. Jack went bright red with embarrassment. He hated being the center of attention. “Why are you late, boy?” barked Miss Verity, spinning around from her blackboard. Before Jack could reply, Grandpa stepped into the classroom. “Wing Commander Bunting at your service, madam,” he said with a salute, before bowing his head and kissing the teacher’s hand. “Miss Verity,” she replied, giggling and covering her mouth nervously. The teacher was obviously flattered by Grandpa’s gallantry. It might have been some time since a gentleman had made a fuss of her in this way. That the teacher giggled made the class giggle too. To silence them, Miss Verity gave the children one of her famous death stares. These were so chilling that they always worked in an instant. 68

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Grandpa's Great Escape by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross  

David Walliams, hailed as “the heir to Roald Dahl” by The Spectator, burst onto the American scene with the New York Times bestseller Demon...

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